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Chris Hedges et. al Win Another Round On the NDAA

You may remember back in mid May Chris Hedges, Dan Ellsberg, Jennifer Bolen, Noam Chomsky, Alexa O’Brien, Kai Wargalla, Birgetta Jonsdottir and the US Day of Rage won a surprising, nee stunning, ruling from Judge Katherine Forrest in the Southern District of New York. Many of us who litigate felt the plaintiffs would never even be given standing, much less prevail on the merits. But, in a ruling dated May 16, 2012, Forrest gave the plaintiffs not only standing, but the affirmative win by issuing a preliminary injunction.

Late yesterday came even better news for Hedges and friends, the issuance of a permanent injunction. I will say this about Judge Forrest, she is not brief as the first ruling was 68 pages, and todays consumes a whopping 112 pages. Here is the setup, as laid out by Forrest (p. 3-4):

Plaintiffs are a group of writers, journalists, and activists whose work regularly requires them to engage in writing, speech, and associational activities protected by the First Amendment. They have testified credibly to having an actual and reasonable fear that their activities will subject them to indefinite military detention pursuant to § 1021(b)(2).

At the March hearing, the Government was unable to provide this Court with any assurance that plaintiffs’ activities (about which the Government had known–and indeed about which the Government had previously deposed those individuals) would not in fact subject plaintiffs to military detention pursuant to § 1021(b)(2). Following the March hearing (and the Court’s May 16 Opinion on the preliminary injunction), the Government fundamentally changed its position.

In its May 25, 2012, motion for reconsideration, the Government put forth the qualified position that plaintiffs’ particular activities, as described at the hearing, if described accurately, if they were independent, and without more, would not subject plaintiffs to military detention under § 1021. The Government did not–and does not–generally agree or anywhere argue that activities protected by the First Amendment could not subject an individual to indefinite military detention under § 1021(b)(2). The First Amendment of the Read more

The Government Can’t Make Up Its Mind Whether WikiLeaks Amounts to Aiding Al Qaeda or Not

The government’s arguments in Hedges v. Obama are getting more and more inconsistent.

This is the case, recall, where Chris Hedges, Birgitta Jonsdottir, and several other people challenged the section of the NDAA that affirmed the President’s authority to militarily detain or deport (among other things) “covered persons.” Because the government repeatedly refused to say that the plaintiffs were not covered by the section, Judge Katherine Forrest not only found they had standing to sue, but she enjoined enforcement of the law.

Now the government is trying to unfuck the fuckup they made at oral arguments by offering caveated assurances that none of the plaintiffs would be covered by the law. (h/t Ben Wittes) But look carefully at what they say:

The government argued in its briefs that the plaintiffs cannot reasonably believe that section 1021 would extend to their conduct, in light of law of war principles, First Amendment limitations, and the absence of a single example of the government detaining an individual for engaging in conduct even remotely similar to what is alleged here. See Gov’t Initial Mem. 12-13. But at argument the government did not agree to provide specific assurance as to each plaintiff, a request that the government considers problematic. As a result, this Court deemed the government’s position to be unclear regarding whether section 1021 could apply to the conduct alleged by plaintiffs in this case. To eliminate any doubt, the government wants to be as clear as possible on that matter. As a matter of law, individuals who engage in the independent journalistic activities or independent public advocacy described in plaintiffs’ affidavits and testimony, without more, are not subject to law of war detention as affirmed by section 1021(a)-(c), solely on the basis of such independent journalistic activities or independent public advocacy.5 Put simply, plaintiffs’ descriptions in this litigation of their activities, if accurate, do not implicate the military detention authority affirmed in section 1021.

5 This case does not involve the kind of independent expressive activity that could support detention in light of law of war principles and the First Amendment. In contrast, for example, a person’s advocacy, in a theater of active military operations, of military attacks on the United States or the intentional disclosure of troop movements or military plans to the enemy, or similar conduct that presents an imperative security threat in the context of an armed conflict or occupation, could be relevant in appropriate circumstances. See Geneva Convention (IV) Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, arts. 5, 41-43, 78. As discussed further below, it is not appropriate to expect the government to make categorical statements about the scope of its detention authority in hypothetical scenarios that could arise in an armed conflict, in part, because that authority is so context-dependent.

The government is not being at all clear here! It is reaffirming it stance that it would be problematic to offer assurances about the plaintiffs. It is saying it “wants to be as clear as possible” on this issue, but then says only if plaintiffs’ descriptions of their activities are accurate, then they don’t implicate military detention authority.

Let me spoil the surprise. The government doesn’t believe all the plaintiffs’ descriptions are accurate.

For a hint of why, look at the footnote. First, you’ve gotta love their caveat that “in a theater of active military operations.” The government has repeatedly said the entire world, including the US, is the battlefield in this war on terror. So they really mean “anywhere.”

But note they include “intentional disclosure of troop movements or military plans” to the enemy. That passage gets at their problem here.

That’s because, in spite of the fact that they say, “Section 1021 has no application to unarmed groups like WikiLeaks,” and remind they’ve offered assurances that Jonsdottir “could [not] possibly be deemed to fall within the scope of section 1021,” the government’s actions against WikiLeaks belie those claims.

That’s true, first of all, because DOJ specifically excludes entities like WikiLeaks from their definition of protected journalistic activities. (Indeed, I’ve deemed this passage from the DIOG the “WikiLeaks exception.”)

As the term is used in the DIOG, “news media” is not intended to include persons and entities that simply make information available. Instead, it is intended to apply to a person or entity that gathers information of potential interest to a segment of the general public, uses editorial skills to turn raw materials into a distinct work, and distributes that work to an audience, as a journalism professional.

Reassurances from DOJ that “journalistic activities” would not make Jonsdottir a covered person for her WikiLeaks work are worthless since DOJ doesn’t consider WikiLeaks’ activities journalistic activities.

More importantly, the government has already made it clear that they believe WikiLeaks amounts to aiding al Qaeda in DOD’s case against Bradley Manning. In fact, they base their Aiding the Enemy charge against Manning on the claim that by leaking materials to WikiLeaks, he knowingly made it available to al Qaeda.

In deliberations over a defense motion to dismiss the “aiding the enemy” charge, the government argued that the “enemy” had gone regularly to a “specific website and Pfc. Bradley Manning knew the “enemy” would do this when he allegedly provided information to the website.

The deliberations occurred in the second day of a pre-trial motion hearing at Fort Meade in Maryland. Manning, who is accused of releasing classified information to WikiLeaks, is charged with “aiding the enemy,” an Article 104 offense under the uniform code of military justice (UCMJ). It is a federal offense that could carry the death penalty (although the government has indicated it will not press for that in sentencing).

Judge Col. Denise Lind asked military prosecutor Capt. Joe Morrow if “the government intends to show that there is a particular website that this information was sent to and the accused was aware the enemy used that website.” Morrow said yes.

What this means is that the government is essentially arguing that “the enemy”—which the government has said is al Qaeda or any terror groups related—frequently accessed WikiLeaks and any “intelligence” provided. Manning knew that by handing over information to website he would provide assistance to “the enemy.”

And Judge Lind bought off on this argument, at least in theory.

So long as the government sustains this bogus Aiding the Enemy charge against Bradley Manning, then they implicitly are also arguing that Jonsdottir, by actually publishing the information allegedly provided by Manning, also intentionally provided intelligence to al Qaeda.

It seems, after being embarrassed by their past obstinance, the government is willing to say anything to avoid individuals from getting standing to challenge their counterterrorism abuses. Are they worried enough to drop that Aiding the Enemy charge yet?

Rorhrabacher’s Attempt to Defund Pakistan Falls 335-84

Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) worked himself into quite a bit of anger yesterday defending his amendment to the NDAA which was intended to cut off funding for Pakistan. He gave a remarkable performance, railing against practices by the Pakistani government which he avidly endorses when carried out by the US.

He railed against Pakistan providing haven for Osama bin Laden even though Rohrabacher actually took up arms and fought alongside the mujahideen, which included bin Laden, back in the mid-80’s when they were fighting the Soviets. He blasted Pakistan for supporting terrorists like the Haqqani network at the same time that he is agitating for the delisting of the MeK as a terrorist group. He decried the arrest and detention without charges of Dr. Shakeel Afridi, who carried out the polio vaccine ruse on behalf of the CIA at the bin Laden compound, and yet he has for years been at the forefront of advocating in favor of the prison at Guantanamo, where many remain held indefinitely without charge.

Here is how Rohrabacher described his amendment in a press release:

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) has introduced H.R. 5734, the “Pakistan Terrorism Accountability Act of 2012.” The legislation would require the Department of Defense to list all Americans killed by terrorist groups operating with impunity inside Pakistan and Afghanistan and supported by elements of the Pakistani government. For each person killed, $50 million would be subtracted from U.S. foreign assistance to Pakistan, a requested $2.2 billion, and given to the victim’s family.

“For too long America has funded the Pakistani government, giving it free money, while elements of the ISI and Pakistan’s military operate radical Islamic groups that are actively murdering Americans,” said Rohrabacher. “Americans will not accept this.” 

“Pakistan has for decades leveraged radical terrorist groups to carry out attacks in India and Afghanistan,” continued Rohrabacher. “Pakistan helped to create the Taliban and Pakistan’s intelligence service hid Osama Bin Laden from the U.S. for years. Today, one of the most dangerous and sophisticated groups killing American troops in Afghanistan is the Haqqani Network, which is closely operated by the Pakistani government.” 

I suppose it’s too much to hope for that someone who operates on the fringes of American politics might realize that the Pakistani government is not a monolith that always acts with all of its participants working together for the same outcome. Rather than supporting those within Pakistan who will advance US interests, Rohrabacher wants to punish all of Pakistan because of those who work against US interests.

Rohrabacher’s attempt at lead pipe diplomacy has failed miserably, going down by a vote of 335 to 84.  Here is how Pakistan Today described the outcome:

Dashing Congressman Dana Rohrabacher’s drastic designs, the US Congress on Thursday turned down the bill proposing curbs on American aid to Pakistan.

/snip/

The House of representative rejected the bill as 335 votes were cast against the bill while 84 in favour. Pakistan ambassador to US, Sherry Rehman played an active role against the bill.

At least he did a better job pronouncing Balochistan

Judge Forrest’s Invitation to Congress: Pass the Smith-Amash Amendment

As I noted yesterday, Judge Katherine Forrest stopped the government from enforcing Section 1021 of last year’s NDAA, because it is having a chilling effect on the First Amendment protected activities of plaintiff’s including Chris Hedges.

There’s an aspect of her ruling that was rather auspiciously timed. Because in addition to enjoining 1021, she invited Congress to fix it.

Accordingly, this Court preliminarily enjoins enforcement of §1021 pending further proceedings in this Court or remedial action by Congress mooting the need for such further proceedings.

As luck would have it, the House is poised to vote today on the Smith-Amash amendment to next year’s NDAA. Their amendment would largely–though perhaps not entirely–“moot the need” for any further proceedings in the Hedges case, because it would eliminate indefinite military detention for those captured in the US.

Reps. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Justin Amash [my Rep] are planning to offer an amendment to this year’s defense authorization bill that would guarantee that no one—citizen or otherwise—could be denied a fair trial if captured in the United States. Smith, who is the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, will introduce the bill during a hearing Wednesday. Amash has agreed to support it once the defense bill comes to the floor next week, possibly bringing along enough Republican support to ensure its passage in the House.

“The amendment is drafted to prevent the president from indefinitely detaining persons captured on US soil without charge or trial,” said Will Adams, a spokesperson for Amash.

I spoke to Adams last night, and the Amendment is within striking distance of having enough votes to pass–though the House leadership is trying a bunch of stunts to avoid that outcome.

I said passing this Amendment would mostly moot further proceedings. That’s because Forrest issued her injunction covering all the plaintiffs, including people like Brigitta Jonsdottir, who is an Icelandic citizen and has sworn off from traveling to the US because of the NDAA and other Wikileaks related prosecution. Whereas the Smith-Amash amendment would apply to Jonsdottir only if she were in the US; it doesn’t offer any protection to non-citizens outside of the US.

Which means, with her ruling, Forrest has made the Smith-Amash amendment the sensible middle ground (really, it ought to be considered the bare minimum, but even still, before last night it didn’t stand a chance in hell of passing the Senate). That is, it does what most Americans seem to want done to the NDAA, to limit it so it doesn’t apply to them.

In her ruling, Forrest made it clear she tried to offer the government an easy way to help her avoid enjoining this section.

The Court’s attempt to avoid having to deal with the Constitutional aspects of the challenge was by providing the Government with prompt notice in the form of declarations and depositions of the precise conduct in which plaintiffs are involved and which they claim places them in fear of military detention. To put it bluntly, eliminating these plaintiffs’ standing simply by representing that their conduct does not fall within the scope of § 1021 would have been simple. The Government chose not to do so–thereby ensuring standing and requiring this Court to reach the merits of the instant motion.

She also made it clear she’d welcome Congress fixing the problem. Let’s see if they do so today.

Judge Enjoins NDAA Section 1021 because Government Implies Speech May Equal Terrorism

The Court then asked: Give me an example. Tell me what it means to substantially support associated forces.

Government: I’m not in a position to give specific examples.

Court: Give me one.

Government: I’m not in a position to give one specific example.

When Judge Katherine Forrest asked the government, repeatedly, for both generalized clarification and descriptions specific to plaintiffs like Chris Hedges and Brigitta Jonsdottir explaining the scope of Section 1021 of the NDAA, the government refused to give it. Not only was the government unwilling to reassure that even a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist like Hedges would not be indefinitely detained as “a person who was part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces” if he reported on any number of terrorist groups, but it also refused to explain the meaning of the section generally.

Which is the core reason why Forrest not only ruled that the plaintiffs have standing and the case should go forward, but also enjoined any enforcement of Section 1021. In explaining this, she noted that she was forced by the government’s refusal to give clarification to assume that the government believes First Amendment speech is included in the orbit of “substantially supported” that might be indefinitely held under 1021.

It must be said that it would have been a rather simple matter for the Government to have stated that as to these plaintiffs and the conduct as to which they would testify, that § 1021 did not and would not apply, if indeed it did or would not. That could have eliminated the standing of these plaintiffs and their claims of irreparable harm. Failure to be able to make such a representation given the prior notice of the activities at issue requires this Court to assume that, in fact, the Government takes the position that a wide swath of expressive and associational conduct is in fact encompassed by § 1021.

[snip]

This Court is left then, with the following conundrum: plaintiffs have put forward evidence that § 1021 has in fact chilled their expressive and associational activities; the Government will not represent that such activities are not covered by § 1021; plaintiffs’ activities are constitutionally protected. Given that record and the protections afforded by the First Amendment, this Court finds that plaintiffs have shown a likelihood of succeeding on the merits of a facial challenge to § 1021.

I spent much of the day explaining to people why Obama’s Yemen EO is so troubling. I’ve had to describe all the things that have transpired that have criminalized speech since Obama issued a similar EO in 2010–the decision in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, the conviction of Tarek Mehanna, and the charging of Bradley Manning with aiding the enemy.

Now I can point to Forrest’s opinion to show that the proposition that journalists might be prosecuted for material support of terrorism for their First Amendment speech–to the extent it’s an extreme proposition–it is the government’s extreme proposition.

Forrest used the government’s stubbornness against it in one other way, too–to get past the rather high bar on whether to issue a preliminary injunction or not. The decision on whether to issue an injunction or not depends on a lot of things. But ultimately, it requires a balancing test between the hardships imposed on the plaintiff and the defense. And since–Forrest explained–the government repeatedly insisted that Section 1021 does no more or less than what the AUMF already does, then enjoining the enforcement of 1021 would not harm the government at all.

In considering whether to issue a preliminary injunction, the Court must consider, as noted above, “the balance of the hardships between the plaintiff and defendant and issue the injunction only if the balance of the hardships tips in the plaintiff’s favor.” Salinger, 607 F.3d at 80.

The Government’s primary argument in opposition to this motion is that § 1021 is simply an affirmation of the AUMF; that it goes no further, it does nothing more. As is clear from this Opinion, this Court disagrees that that is the effect of § 1021 as currently drafted. However, if the Government’s argument is to be credited in terms of its belief as to the impact of the legislation–which is nil–then the issuance of an injunction should have absolutely no impact on any Governmental activities at all. The AUMF does not have a “sunset” provision: it is still in force and effect. Thus, to the extent the Government believes that the two provisions are co-extensive, enjoining any action under § 1021 should not have any impact on the Government.

While most of Forrest’s ruling involved hoisting the government on its own obstinate petard, she also left a goodie in her ruling for the higher courts that will surely review her decision after the government surely appeals (unless Congress passes a fix to the NDAA tomorrow, as they might). Forrest established the importance of speech by pointing to … Anthony Kennedy’s opinion in Citizens United.

In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 130 S. Ct. 876 (2010), Justice Kennedy wrote that “[s]peech is an essential mechanism of democracy, for it is the means that hold officials accountable to the people . . . . The right of citizens to inquire, to hear, to speak, and to use information to reach consensus is a pre-condition to enlightened self-government.” Id. at 899. Laws that burden political speech are therefore subject to strict scrutiny. Id. at 898. “The First Amendment protects speech and speaker, and the ideas that flow from each.” Id. at 899.

If corporations can avail themselves of unlimited campaign speech, then mere journalists and activists ought to be able to engage in political speech without being indefinitely detained.

And yet, it took a judge to make that argument to the government.

Obama Takes a Position to the Right of Congress on Indefinite Detention

Back when I reported on Obama’s stated intent to interpret the good part of the NDAA–the part requiring a meaningful review for all detainees held by DOD–to mean DOD could decide how long to hold people before it gave them the review mandated by Congress, I complained that Obama would hold detainees more than 6 months before granting detainees this review.

In addition, this says DOD gets to decide how long new detainees will have to wait before they get a status review with an actual lawyer–and Congress is perfectly happy making them wait over six months before that time.

Obama seems to have taken that language and pushed it further still: stating that DOD will get broad discretion to decide which reviews will carry the requirement of a judge and a lawyer.

It sort of makes you wonder why the Obama Administration wants these men to be held for over six months with no meaningful review?

It turns out I was far, far too optimistic. As Daphne Eviatar reports, Obama plans to hold detainees for three years before giving them this congressional mandated review.

On April 5, the Defense Department quietly sent a report to Congress indicating how it intends to implement a new law requiring lawyers and judges for detainees held in long-term U.S. military custody. As expected, DoD largely wrote the new rights out of existence, ensuring they’d be accorded to few, if any, detainees. What’s more, it severely limited the scope of judicial review even that small number will receive.

[snip]

Here’s how it works. According to the new regulations:

The combatant commander with responsibility for the theater of operations in which the unprivileged enemy belligerent is detained will ensure that a determination by the DRB or analogous review that the 1024(b) process is applicable is made as soon as practicable but not later than 18 months after the detainee is captured by, or transferred to the custody and control of, the Department of Defense. Additionally, the combatant commander will ensure that a Section 1024(b) review is conducted as soon as practicable after such a determination is made, but not later than 18 months after such a determination is made.

Eighteen months plus 18 months equals three years. So any newly-captured suspect is not entitled to a hearing by a military judge and represented by military defense counsel until three years after his initial detention.

What’s more:

A military judge will conduct a hearing for the purposes of determining whether the detainee is a covered person as defined in subsection (b) of Section 1021 of the Act. The review will be limited to this status determination; it will not include an assessment of the level of threat the detainee poses, nor will it serve as a substitute for the judgment of the combatant commander as to the appropriate disposition of a detainee lawfully detained by the Department of Defense.

In other words, the judge will decide only if the suspect is appropriately classified as an “unprivileged enemy belligerent” — that is, any person “who was part of or substantially supported al Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners.” The judge will not decide whether that person actually poses a threat to U.S. forces. Yet under international law, that’s a critical part of determining whether someone can be lawfully detained in a war against insurgent groups. That critical determination will continue to be made secretly by a military commander in the field, not by the more neutral judge following an open hearing.

Someone who did laundry, cooked meals or provided medical assistance for a member of al Qaeda, the Taliban or unidentified “associated forces” could therefore continue to be detained indefinitely even after his judicial review if the commander deems him dangerous. And the commander doesn’t have to explain that decision to anyone. [my emphasis]

Those Bedouin women and children we killed in a missile strike and then excused our war crime by saying the Bedouins had been selling AQAP? They’re the kind of people that this order would include.

So in response to Congress–Congress!!!!–trying to put all our military detainees on some kind of legitimate legal footing, Obama (the guy who ran on closing Gitmo), basically blew them off and embraced still more indefinite detention.

Eric Holder’s View on National Security: Three Branches. Except for When the Third becomes Inconvenient.

Eric Holder’s speech–which starts with a defense of civilian trials and ends with dead American citizens–fails to achieve its impossible task. Granted, Holder frames his defense of civilian trials in efficacy, not rule of law (in language that really should have been a cornerstone of the NDAA debate). But ultimately, Holder claims to be upholding due process, and that’s where his case for killing Anwar al-Awlaki falls apart.

Close to the beginning of his speech, Holder promises the counterterrorism powers of the government would be subject to checks and balances.

We must – and will continue to – use the intelligence-gathering capabilities that Congress has provided to collect information that can save and protect American lives.  At the same time, these tools must be subject to appropriate checks and balances – including oversight by Congress and the courts, as well as within the Executive Branch – to protect the privacy and civil rights of innocent individuals.

Holder offers the use of the FISA Court as example of all three branches exercising such checks and balances.

Let me give you an example.  Under section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence may authorize annually, with the approval of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, collection directed at identified categories of foreign intelligence targets, without the need for a court order for each individual subject.  This ensures that the government has the flexibility and agility it needs to identify and to respond to terrorist and other foreign threats to our security.  But the government may not use this authority intentionally to target a U.S. person, here or abroad, or anyone known to be in the United States.

The law requires special procedures, reviewed and approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, to make sure that these restrictions are followed, and to protect the privacy of any U.S. persons whose nonpublic information may be incidentally acquired through this program.   The Department of Justice and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence conduct extensive oversight reviews of section 702 activities at least once every sixty days, and we report to Congress on implementation and compliance twice a year.  This law therefore establishes a comprehensive regime of oversight by all three branches of government.  Reauthorizing this authority before it expires at the end of this year is the top legislative priority of the Intelligence Community.

Never mind that Holder exaggerates the statutory authority given to FISC. He still uses it as a robust example of the value of three branches exercising oversight. The court–even one operating in secret, Holder claims–provides an important check and balance.

Apparently, such checks and balances are not what the Constitution has in mind when it talks about due process for American citizens.

The Supreme Court has made clear that the Due Process Clause does not impose one-size-fits-all requirements, but instead mandates procedural safeguards that depend on specific circumstances.  In cases arising under the Due Process Clause – including in a case involving a U.S. citizen captured in the conflict against al Qaeda – the Court has applied a balancing approach, weighing the private interest that will be affected against the interest the government is trying to protect, and the burdens the government would face in providing additional process.  Where national security operations are at stake, due process takes into account the realities of combat.

[snip]

Some have argued that the President is required to get permission from a federal court before taking action against a United States citizen who is a senior operational leader of al Qaeda or associated forces.  This is simply not accurate.  “Due process” and “judicial process” are not one and the same, particularly when it comes to national security.  The Constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process.

[snip]

The Constitution’s guarantee of due process is ironclad, and it is essential – but, as a recent court decision makes clear, it does not require judicial approval before the President may use force abroad against a senior operational leader of a foreign terrorist organization with which the United States is at war – even if that individual happens to be a U.S. citizen. [my emphasis]

Unfortunately (for Holder and for the rule of law), his argument falls apart here. That bolded language explicitly invokes Hamdi (though interestingly, not by name). And here’s what Hamdi has to say about what due process entails.

It is during our most challenging and uncertain moments that our Nation’s commitment to due process is most severely tested; and it is in those times that we must preserve our commitment at home to the principles for which we fight abroad.

[snip]

We therefore hold that a citizen-detainee seeking to challenge his classification as an enemy combatant must receive notice of the factual basis for his classification, and a fair opportunity to rebut the Government’s factual assertions before a neutral decisionmaker.

[snip]

In sum, while the full protections that accompany challenges to detentions in other settings may prove unworkable and inappropriate in the enemy-combatant setting, the threats to military operations posed by a basic system of independent review are not so weighty as to trump a citizen’s core rights to challenge meaningfully the Government’s case and to be heard by an impartial adjudicator.

[snip]

Thus, while we do not question that our due process assessment must pay keen attention to the particular burdens faced by the Executive in the context of military action, it would turn our system of checks and balances on its head to suggest that a citizen could not make his way to court with a challenge to the factual basis for his detention by his government, simply because the Executive opposes making available such a challenge. Absent suspension of the writ by Congress, a citizen detained as an enemy combatant is entitled to this process. [my emphasis]

That is, Hamdi–which Holder invokes for premise that “due process takes into account the realities of combat”–specifically says “the threats to military operations posed by a basic system of independent review are not so weighty as to trump a citizen’s core rights to challenge meaningfully the Government’s case and to be heard by an impartial adjudicator.” Hamdi permits for balancing–for the use of things like hearsay, for example. But it explicitly says that the realities of combat don’t obviate a citizen’s right to an impartial adjudicator.

You know. Like a judge.

As I’ll show in a later post, Holder’s claim that the Awlaki killing had proper Congressional oversight is just as false. But in his efforts to dismiss the necessity of courts to provide checks and balances, he invokes a SCOTUS case that requires an independent reviewer to provide just such a check.

Obama’s Detainee Waivers Exempt Aspirational Terrorists from Military Detention

During the debate on the NDAA, I noted that Obama could just issue an order saying the military primacy required by the law would only kick in after a civilian trial.

Nothing in the bill allows Congress to override the procedures developed by the Administration; it only requires that Congress get a copy of them.

Which would seem to permit the Administration to issue the following procedures:

  1. The persons authorized to make determinations whether or not someone is a “Covered Person” are Article III jurors and/or jurists.
  2. The process by which it will be determined whether or not someone is a “Covered Person” will be a civilian trial.

That would seem to render the effect of the most noxious part of the detainee provisions minimal: rather than imprisoning convicted terrorists at Florence SuperMax, those terrorists will be detained at Leavenworth. But they won’t be transferred to military custody until after they get a civilian trial.

While Obama does carve out significant swathes of detainees who will be exempt from presumptive military detention, the order he released yesterday doesn’t go as far as requiring trials to determine if someone is a “covered person;” instead, it uses probable cause.

I’ll have a number of things to say about his order, but for the moment, look at how he defines “attempted attack;”

An “attempted attack” means an overt act or acts beyond  substantial step when (a) performed with specific intent to commit an attack; and (b) no further step or act by the individual would be necessary to complete the attack.

“No further act would be necessary to complete the attack.”

While most of the aspirational terrorists the FBI arrests would be exempted as citizens or lawful permanent residents, this definition would also exempt people like Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari–the Saudi who ordered chemicals to build a bomb, but had many further steps to go before his attacks would have been completed–from presumptive military custody. And while Aldawsari’s case is already really attenuated, the acts of someone like Najibullah Zazi would not have qualified either. (Note, I hope to return to this post on Aldawsari, but in the meantime, recommend you go read it.)

Mind you, I think that’s a good thing–the fewer people stuck in Lindsey Graham’s military brigs the better. But it does betray that DOJ charges as attempted attacks acts that, under this directive, don’t qualify as attempted attacks.

Government Awards $35 Million Contract to Expand Parwan Prison

The Obama Administration insists that it wants to close Gitmo, but Congress is preventing them from doing so.

They rarely talk about the other big detainee prison–the one with significantly less transparency and due process than exists at Gitmo: Parwan prison in Bagram.

Perhaps that’s because we’ve just awarded a $35 million contract to expand that prison for the second time in Obama’s Administration, this time to add 2,000 beds.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineer (USACE) Middle East District has a requirement to construct detainee housing capability for approximately 2000 detainees in Parwan, Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. Primary facilities include detainee housing, guard towers, administrative facility and Vehicle/Personnel Access Control Gates, security surveillance and restricted access systems. Primary power will be tie into the Bagram electrical distribution grid. Backup power will be provided by generators. Supporting facilities include site preparation, utilities, sidewalks, access road, lighting, and information systems. Anti-terrorism/Force Protection measures will be included. The project will be delivered using a design-build approach. All work identified in the Scope of Work shall be completed within 369 calendar days from award.

And remember: Obama’s NDAA signing statement suggested that the Administration would push the requirement under Section 1024 to give detainees meaningful reviews of their detention (the Administration suggests it will hold detainees for more than 6 months before giving such a meaningful review).

So yes, it is nice the Administration intends to close Gitmo. But I’d prefer if it stopped expanding our prison capacity in general.

4th Circuit: Enemy Combatants Can’t Complain about Having Been Made Enemy Combatants

As you’ve probably heard, the 4th Circuit rejected Jose Padilla’s suit against Donald Rumsfeld on Tuesday. Both Lyle Denniston and Steve Vladeck have good summaries of the decision, which basically says the courts can’t grant damages for constitutional abuses not otherwise covered by law until such time as Congress sees fit to cover them in law:

The factors counseling hesitation are many. We have canvassed them in some detail, but only to make a limited point: not that such litigation is categorically forbidden by the Constitution, but that courts should not proceed down this highly problematic road in the absence of affirmative action by Congress. If Congress were to create a damages remedy here, we would trust that the legislative process gave due consideration to the broader policy implications that we as judges are neither authorized nor well-positioned to balance on our own.

But if that’s not circular enough reasoning for you, here’s a more disturbing one–one which may have troubling implications given the recent codification of indefinite detention.

The 4th Circuit Opinion hews closely to the argument the government made in its amicus brief which, as I described last year, itself engaged in circular logic. It effectively invoked national security to say that the court couldn’t consider Padilla’s deprivation of due process. And then having bracketed off the lack of due process that got him put in the brig with no access to lawyers, they effectively punted on the torture complaint.

To explain their failure to treat torture in their filing, they say 1) that the other defendants are addressing it and 2) they don’t have to deal with it anyway because the President has said the US does not engage in torture (which is precisely what Bush said when torture was official policy):

In this brief, we do not address the details of Padilla’s specific treatment allegations, which have already been thoroughly briefed by the individual defendants.1

1 Notwithstanding the nature of Padilla’s allegations, this case does not require the court to consider the definition of torture. Torture is flatly illegal and the government has repudiated it in the strongest terms. Federal law makes it a criminal offense to engage in torture, to attempt to commit torture, or to conspire to commit torture outside the United States. See 18 U.S.C. § 2340A. Moreover, consistent with treaty obligations, the President has stated unequivocally that the United States does not engage in torture, see May 21, 2009 Remarks by the President on National Security.

Note that bit, though, where the government acknowledges that torture is illegal?

That’s important, because they base their objections to the Bivens complaint in part on the possibility that a court could review Padilla’s treatment–treatment he alleges amounts to torture, which the government accepts is illegal–and determine whether it was in fact torture and therefore illegal.

Padilla also seeks damages in regard to the lawfulness of his treatment while in military detention. Thus, a court would have to inquire into, and rule on the lawfulness of, the conditions of Padilla’s military confinement and the interrogation techniques employed against him. Congress has not provided any such cause of action, and, as the district court concluded (JA 1522), a court should not create a remedy in these circumstances given the national security and war powers implications.

And they’re arguing Congress–which passed laws making torture illegal (to say nothing of the Constitution prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment)–didn’t provide for a cause of action.

That is, Padilla can’t sue both because Congress has made it illegal but not provided a cause of action here and … national security!

Effectively, then, the government shielded torture by shielding the initial lack of due process from all oversight under national security and therefore depriving Padilla of recourse once he lost his access to due process.

In my opinion, the 4th Circuit brief actually magnifies this problem. Check out the language in these two passages:

Special factors do counsel judicial hesitation in implying
causes of action for enemy combatants held in military detention.

[snip]

With respect to detainees like Padilla, Congress has provided for limited judicial review of military commission decisions, but only by the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals, and only after the full process in military courts has run its course. 10 U.S.C. § 950g. And to the extent that the Supreme Court in Boumediene v. Bush, 553 U.S. 723 (2008), permitted further judicial examination of the detention of enemy combatants, it did so using the limited tool of the constitutionally guaranteed writ of habeas corpus—not an implied and open-ended civil damages
action. See id. at 797. [my emphasis]

That is, the 4th Circuit did not consider whether American citizens with no other recourse could sue under Bivens for having been turned into enemy combatants precisely to deprive them of their rights. Rather, it considered whether “enemy combatants held in military detention” and “detainees like Padilla” had access to Bivens. It thereby ignored the most fundamental part of the process, where the Bush Administration removed Padilla, a citizen, from civilian detention with access to due process, and made him an enemy combatant.

The 4th Circuit denies Padilla the ability to sue for being deprived of his constitutional right to due process by considering him not as a citizen deprived of his constitutional rights, but as a detainee whose constitutional rights had already been suspended.

Which makes the final passages of this opinion all the more nauseating. Having premised their entire decision not on Padilla’s rights as a citizen, but on his rights as an enemy combatant (even seemingly referring to him as a detainee, in the present tense), they then argue that there would be no incremental harm for Padilla between being a citizen convicted of a felony through due process and being an enemy combatant.

It is hard to imagine what “incremental” harm it does to Padilla’s reputation to add the label of “enemy combatant” to the fact of his convictions and the conduct that led to them.

This entire suit is about the magical power that term “enemy combatant” has to put an American citizen beyond the realm of due process (and, in Padilla’s case, to be tortured precisely because he has lost due process). That is precisely the logic the judges use throughout this opinion. And yet they simply can’t imagine what the difference between being a citizen–even one convicted of multiple felonies–and being an enemy combatant is?

And then there are the larger implications of this. In a world where indefinite detention is now codified into law, in a world where Padilla has always delimited the possible applications of claimed authority to hold American citizens captured in this country as enemy combatants, the circuit that covers CIA’s and JSOC’s actions–not to mention the two military brigs, Charleston and Quantico, that would be the most likely places to detain American citizens–just accorded that term, “enemy combatant,” magical status. Once applied to an American citizen, the 4th Circuit says, the Executive Branch is absolved of any infringements of a citizen’s constitutional rights, even the infringements of constitutional rights used to get him into that magic status in the first place.